Population Trends Causing Universities to Scramble?

In a recent article featured on the front page of the Washington Post, Valerie Strauss looks at how major demographic trends are impacting the higher education landscape. These demographic trends include a drop in the number of high school graduates (starting with next year’s graduating class) and significant changes in the racial and ethnic characteristics of the high school graduates. It is projected that over the next decade the number of white graduates will decline by more than 10%, while the number of minority graduates will experience significant double-digit growth. Minority student enrollment at colleges and universities is expected to grow during the next several years, with some analysts projecting that it will be as high as 37% by 2015 (it was 30% in 2004).

So what do all of these demographic trends mean for colleges and universities around the country? First, the student population at most schools is probably going to look quite different in a decade. Just ask Stephen Joel Trachtenberg, president emeritus and professor, from George Washington University who is quoted in the article as saying:

“The majority will become the minority, there will be more Hispanics, more African Americans, more Chinese, Indians, Pakistanis, Koreans. I anticipate that the most common last name in the freshman class will be Kim.”

These trends will also significantly impact the way colleges and universities recruit students, deliver financial aid, and market themselves to prospective students. A significant trend discussed in the article is for colleges and universities to focus recruiting efforts out of state, in areas where the pool of high school graduates is not shrinking like it is most areas of the country. For example, George Washington University has set up recruiting offices in cities around the country (e.g., Los Angeles, Atlanta, Chicago, Boston, and northern New Jersey) to expand domestic recruiting and at the same time is devoting more time and resources to overseas recruiting. American University is pursuing a strategy of increasing recruiting in population growth areas such as Arizona and other western states.

At the same time, institutions are thinking about ways to reduce the financial burden of pursuing higher education. Actions highlighted in the article include increasing financial aid budgets and expanding scholarships for students that remain in-state to attend their public, state university.

It would be a very interesting study to expand on the findings in this article by talking to more institutions and finding out how they plan to deal with these challenges. Specifically, I’d like to know the following:

  • Are all schools feeling the effects of these trends?
  • To what extent are schools with different characteristics feeling the effects (e.g., geographical location, size, public vs. private, etc)?
  • What are some innovative ways schools are dealing with these recruiting challenges? What about financial aid?

If you know the answers to any of these questions, or know of any additional studies please let me know.